Video: A recording of PEARL's lighting system in action. Recorded by VolkerFitzpatrick 8/04/2021


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PEARL (Person-Environment-Activity Research Laboratory) is a unique facility to explore the ways in which people interact with their environment. It is a massive space – around 4,000m2 and 10m high – in which we can create life-sized environments – a railway station, high street, town square – under controlled conditions, so that we can examine how people interact with the environment and other people in these types of places. We can change the profile, type and material of the floor, simulate lighting of any colour and intensity, create sound from the tiniest bird song to the most massive explosion, include other senses, such as smell, and much more.


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Much of our understanding about how cities work is based on a lot of assumptions about how people respond to, use and act in the environment. Many of these assumptions are based on experience over many years and are valid in general, but often the models we use just don’t represent what actually happens. PEARL enables us to study in detail how people actually interact with the environment and each other, by enabling us to test detailed differences in the environment – such as space, colour, lighting, sound – under controlled conditions, so that we can obtain rich data for use in the design of real urban systems.

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PEARL includes a pop-up theatre so that the public, researchers, artists, performers and others can see, hear, smell, feel and explore what might be possible in an urban environment before trying it out in public. We can help designers work out how people will respond to their designs, for example, of trains. Sometimes we need to instrument people with sophisticated systems, such as eye trackers, accelerometers, brain scanners and motion detection systems, so that we can track how they move around the environment.


Our Vision

PEARL’s vision is to create a better world for a future in which people and the environment can thrive together in a mutually beneficial, safe, equitable and healthy way. We aim to improve the quality of life, health and wellbeing of all within the context of a more sustainable environment. We see this as a world in which people and environment come together.


Our Objective

PEARL challenges all frontiers and our endeavour is driven by the exploration of new ideas which contribute to the creation of a better world. We bring to the challenge whatever qualities it needs, whether multidisciplinary, multinational, multicultural or multifunctional. We believe in looking at the issue first, before determining what particular combination of scientific, artistic, engineering, humanitarian, or philosophical approaches might be needed to understand it.


Our Approach

At PEARL, 4 core values inform the way in which we approach our work:


1. Problem-based

At PEARL, everything that is pertinent to a problem we are trying to solve or improve is involved in the investigation of how to resolve it, whether this be knowledge, experience, skills, techniques, setups, equipment and administration actions. This usually means that multiple disciplines are involved…

2. Transdisciplinarity

We do not consider the world in terms of ‘academic disciplines’, although we appreciate what they each have to offer. However, we realise that most real-world problems require multiple disciplines simultaneously and appreciate the benefits they each lend to each other. At PEARL, we consider ‘transdisciplinarity’ as a process whereby the learning and thinking developed in one discipline is brought to bear on others in such a way that none of the disciplines involved remains the same after this interchange. Transdisciplinarity thus describes the evolution of one discipline, through its interactions with others, in relation to a specific challenge.


3. Transformation

Through the process of transdiciplinarity, we expect ‘disciplines’ to evolve. While this does not remove the need for high levels of knowledge and skills, expertise, experience and talent, it does mean that all our staff need to be willing to transform their particular strengths in multisensorial, multidisciplinary, and multifunctional ways so that they can be best applied to the specific challenge of the moment.

4. Integration

The ultimate aim of our problem-based, transdisciplinary, transformational approach is to understand the environment – including people - in a more holistic manner. To help with this process, PEARL’s building, facilities, systems and approaches are designed to encourage people to work together and meld their ideas towards new ways of understanding the world as a whole. Our long-term objective is thus greater integration people and the environment.

The following diagram describes the holistic and integrative nature of PEARL.



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for details


PEARL is a part of the UK's national research facility for infrastructure and cities, called the UK Collaboratorium for Research on Infrastructure and Cities (UKCRIC). PEARL is hosted by UCL as a transdisciplinary research facility of the Centre for Transport Studies, which is part of the Department of Civil, Environmental & Geomatic Engineering. Capital funding for PEARL was provided by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), through EPSRC, and UCL. UCL also covers the core operational costs


About UCL 

UCL was founded in 1826 as a university to change the way university education was provided and to open up access to the creation of ideas beyond those of the then current world of classics and theology, to people who were not able to afford to go to university, or who were not able to apply to university for other reasons - e.g. their religion or gender. The university continues to challenge the establishment to this day and PEARL is an example of its investment in changing research and education and widening the access to these to more people. You can see more about UCL at


UKCRIC is an integrated research capability with a mission to underpin the renewal, sustainment and improvement of infrastructure and cities in the UK and elsewhere. UKCRIC engages stakeholders to better understand and address complex infrastructure challenges through collaborative research, and is always looking for opportunities to help improve situations. UKCRIC has funded 13 cross-disciplinary lab and urban observatory test facilities across a network of UK universities, including PEARL at UCL. Visit the UKCRIC website to learn more.